With polls showing Scotland set to reject independence in a referendum in less than three months, Prime Minister David Cameron’s team is turning its focus to delivering a “No” vote big enough to kill the question.
They are now confident of victory in the Sept. 18 ballot for the “Better Together” campaign to keep the U.K. intact, according to a prime ministerial aide who asked not to be named because Downing Street’s strategy is private. The push now is to keep the “Yes” vote below 40 percent, which Cameron’s camp sees as the threshold for ending the question of Scottish independence, the aide said.
“If the polls showing a double-digit lead for the ‘No’ campaign are right, then the debate is more or less over,” Anthony Wells, of polling company YouGov Plc, said in an interview.
Cameron joined Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland today at the launch ceremony for an aircraft carrier named in her honor. The ship, the Royal Navy’s largest ever, was assembled at the Rosyth Dockyard, near Edinburgh, from pieces built across the U.K., and the event was redolent with reminders of Scotland’s place in more than three centuries of U.K. history.
The carrier contract -- a partnership of BAE Systems Plc, Babcock International Group Plc and the U.K. unit of Thales SA with Britain’s Ministry of Defence -- is held out by anti-independence campaigners as an example of the ways Scotland benefits from being in the U.K. Britain has the world’s fifth-largest defense budget, and No campaigners say spending in Scotland would probably fall following a Yes vote. A second ship is still being built at the yard.
‘Proud to be British’
“Fantastic -- it makes you proud to be British,” Cameron told reporters.
When pictures of Alex Salmond, whose Scottish National Party heads the devolved government in Edinburgh and called the independence vote, appeared on a large screen at the ceremony, there was some booing from dock workers and their families. As the ceremony ended, they joined the Royal Marines in shouting three cheers for the queen.
“There were a lot of Union Jacks, and not a Saltire in sight,” Business Minister Michael Fallon observed, referring to the flags of the U.K. and Scotland.
Polls suggest that the Yes campaign has failed to persuade voters. A YouGov Plc survey this week found 54 percent of respondents said they planned to reject independence, against 35 percent who said they were in favor. Forty-three percent said they’d be financially worse off in an independent Scotland, while 17 percent said they’d be better off. YouGov questioned 1,206 adults in Scotland June 25-29. No margin of error was given.
While other polls have shown narrower leads for the No camp, not one survey this year has put Yes ahead. Even so, most polls still show enough undecided voters to sway the result either way.
“The referendum has made the U.K. government sit up and take notice of Scotland,” Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, said in a statement. “The only way to avoid the situation where we get ignored again post-September is to vote Yes and take responsibility for Scotland’s vast resources, for the benefit of our cities and indeed communities the length and breadth of Scotland.”
The SNP may see a poll bounce following a No vote, as the public feels a surge of regret for a missed opportunity, according to the Cameron aide.
Even if voters reject independence, No campaigners say they fear that a narrow victory will lead to a “neverendum,” where the independence question is brought back to the table by the SNP.
“My own view is that there will be no appetite among the Scottish public for endless constitutional debate,” Gregg McClymont, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, which also campaigns against independence, said in a phone interview. “Remember the polls show between a quarter and a third of the public don’t even want more powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. They’re happy with the status quo.”
Today’s ceremony at Rosyth featured a mix of Britishness and Scottishness, with a fly-past from the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows display team and a lone bagpiper playing a lament from the carrier’s flight deck. The British national anthem played. Instead of champagne, the queen broke a bottle of Bowmore single malt whisky against the side of the ship, to the strains of “Rule, Britannia!”